Speak the Truth
Acts 2:14-24; 36-42
Lessons Every Child Should Learn & No Adult Should Forget
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Pastor Bob was the only minister in the little coastal community where he lived. Everyone knew Pastor Bob and many of the locals attended his church. One of the wonderful aspects of life there was the many fine golf courses in the surrounding area. When Bob came to be the pastor he didn’t play golf but one particular year, as fate would have it, he caught the golfing bug and all he wanted to do from then on was to spend time on the links. The problem, however, was that Fridays were his off day and thus the day he liked to play. But, for some reason that summer, it rained virtually every Friday. Every week, by the time Sunday rolled around, though, the course was dry again and the weather was perfect. Week after week, this cycle repeated itself– rain on Friday and dry, lovely conditions by Sunday morning.
One weekend, Bob’s humanity got the best of him and he caved to the pressure. After enduring another rainy Friday with no golf and seeing the forecast of a Chamber of Commerce Day for Sunday, Bob cracked. He called a local retired minister and faked being sick. Bob asked if the old minister would fill in for him on Sunday and, you guessed it, Bob went to the course while skipping church, to play 18 holes alone on a sunny Sabbath morning.
As Bob began to play, up in heaven a group of guardian angels found themselves both watching and shaking their heads. They were all very disappointed in Pastor Bob, and it was suggested to Bob’s particular guardian angel that he needed to find some way to teach this wayward man of the cloth a lesson. And so it was that on the third hole, a little 110 yard par three, Pastor Bob hit the shot of his life. It took a beautiful arc, right at the hole, bounced twice and hopped in the cup for the first hole in one of Bob’s golfing career.
Seeing the hole in one, Bob’s guardian angel came under pressure from the others, how could he allow Bob to make a hole in one when he had lied to his church and skipped the Sunday sermon for the golf course? “But, that is just the point” the guardian angel replied, “who is he going to tell?”
One of the great lessons of that cute little story is the fact that it isn’t always easy or advisable to tell the truth. No, often times in life, the simplest way out of situation or predicament is to be less than honest. This isn’t only true for you and me as averages folks living life in 2013, it was also the case in the biblical period.
The disciple known as Peter gives us a classic example of this reality. The Book of Acts is the continuation of the gospel of Luke. Most all biblical scholars feel that the same person who wrote Luke also penned Acts. Luke offers us the story of Jesus and his three year earthly ministry with Acts serving as the continuation of the story through helping us to understand how the church formed and began to carry out the lessons and legacy of Jesus after his death and resurrection. In both the end of Luke, in chapter 22, and in the beginning of Act in chapter 2, which is our text for today, we find Peter, who was the leader among Jesus’ twelve disciples facing two significant occasions where his resolve to tell the truth was put to the test.
In Luke, the scene is that of Peter in the courtyard of the High Priest. Jesus is inside the High Priest’s home and Peter is outside where he is questioned about his connection to the teacher from Galilee. As you well know, in that moment, when Peter was struggled between the truth and fiction, he failed miserably. In response to three successive questions, Peter denied that he knew Jesus.
Fast forward to Acts 2, only a few chapters over in the combined work of Luke-Acts and we find Peter again at pivotal moment where his willingness to tell the truth was again put to the test. The scene now is Peter before a large gathering of people in Jerusalem most of whom were devout Jews. It is the moment of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ followers and Peter finds himself questioned by the crowd as to the meaning of what is taking place. In essence, Peter is again faced with the same temptation that was before him in the High Priest’s courtyard—that is to deny a relationship to Jesus. Now, as then, Peter likely felt that his life was on the line and a willingness to publicly associate himself with Jesus might lead to disastrous consequences. But, this time, Peter made a wise choice. He avoided the temptation to be less than honest by speaking the truth about Jesus, his relationship to him and what was happening as the Holy Spirit came into their midst.
These two scenes from Peter’s life and these windows into his soul are very helpful in what they can communicate to all of us about our own struggles with speaking the truth. So, allow me, if you would, for just a moment to highlight what we can learn from Peter here.
On the one hand, Peter’s experiences remind us to do our best to be cautious of whatever seems most comfortable or easy when it comes to speaking the truth. Often times, the temptation to avoid the truth is the direct result of our concerns about the reactions of others to what we feel that we need to say or to share. Think again about the events from Peter’s life. In both of them, he was clearly aware of the ramifications of his words. In all likelihood, he recognized that his willingness to speak honestly, clearly and publicly about his relationship to Jesus could be a costly thing. It was not the easiest way out. As a result, in the first instance, in the courtyard outside of the High Priest’s residence, Peter chose what was easiest, most comfortable and safe—he denied that he knew Jesus. Yet, that which was most comfortable in the moment was the same decision that would haunt Peter for some time thereafter.
On the other hand, as we follow Peter as he matures and grows, we see a marked difference in him by the time that we reach that Acts story. There, in a similar occasion, where he is again tempted to avoid the truth, Peter exhibits a willingness not to say what is easiest but rather to say what is best. In Acts, Peter is honest, passionate and clear about his relationship with Jesus. His willingness to speak the truth is no less dangerous and yet he is much bolder. In turn, as he chooses what is best rather than what is simply easiest, his courage pays off as over three thousand people, according to Acts, responded positively to what he had to share.
This is our struggle too when it comes to truth telling. Will we approach those moments where being honest isn’t easy with a desire to simply choose the path of least resistance, that is to say the path that is easiest, or, will we choose the path that is best? When it comes to our relationships with family, friends, ourselves and with God, are we satisfied with what makes us most comfortable or are we willing to risk verbalizing the honest feelings of our hearts in hopes of bring forth the positive change that needs to take place?
Buchenwald was the name of one of the numerous Nazi Concentration Camps during World War II. It was located on a hill outside of the East German town of Weimar. Several years ago now, I visited Buchenwald with a group from our church at Johns Creek while in the area on a Mission Trip.
What I remember most vividly about that experience was looking at photos of the citizens of Weimar being marched through Buchenwald at the end of the war. You see, though it was a horrific site for average citizens to have to view, the Allied forces felt it was imperative that all local people see what had been happening on the hill outside of the city unbeknownst to most of them. Why did they think it was imperative? The reason was that the camp had been kept a secret from most of the local people. They had no idea what the Nazis were doing behind the barbed wire. In turn, the Allies did not want there to be any doubt or hesitation in the minds of the average German about the atrocities committed. They wanted them to fully see and to know completely the truth. Their belief was that unless they knew the truth, there remained a possibility that the same crimes could be allowed to take place again in the future. So, one by one they marched the citizens into the camp so that they would be fully and completely aware of what had happened.
Unless one knows the truth—the real, complete, unvarnished truth—then a different future is not possible for anyone. Avoiding the truth may always be easier in the moment, but, it is never what is best in the long run. Amen.